On the road in Egypt

Thursday 3 January 2008: Getting up at 0345 is not particularly child-friendly. Luckily, my daughters are easygoing. They look forward to sailing the Nile and seeing Egypt. A six-hour flight later, we land in Hurghada. Now, I won’t knock Hurghada, because I didn’t see all of it, but apart from beautiful beaches, grand resorts along the Red Sea coast and probably fab snorkelling and diving, is there much to it? Is there a city? A centre? A lively, bustling market? Perhaps. I didn’t see one.

Now, about Egyptian traffic. Where do I begin?

Most long-distance transport in Egypt seems to be in convoy, often with more than 100 busses, one after the other. So is our journey from Hurghada to Luxor. We break twice during the four hours.

At a convoy stop

As we drive through the Red Sea Mountains, darkness descends. The driver doesn’t switch the headlamps on – except every once in a while, to check the road and oncoming traffic, presumably. Afterwards, he switches the lights off again. An effort to save energy, perhaps?

Road safety isn’t high on the priorities list, it appears. We’re told traffic lights have been installed in Luxor, but no one really cares. So the authorities optimistically put up countdown clocks, politely saying Could you kindly wait just 16 more seconds until the light turns green?

To no avail.

Luxor Traffic Light

Egyptian traffic is a story all on its own.

Pedestrians, cars, busses, lorries, donkeys and caleches (horse-drawn carriages) just keep on, disregarding the lights. The largest vehicles seem to have the right-of-way – and it’s every man, woman, child, donkey and stray for himself. It’s a tough world – and totally opposite of how things work home in Scandinavia, where pedestrians always come first – even when jaywalking.

Egyptian traffic

Caroline, a Swedish expat, tells us a driving licence is relatively easy to obtain in Egypt. You make an appointment to take a driving test. When there, you’re asked to drive slalom between a row of cones; then do the same in reverse. That’s mostly it! If you manage without hitting too many cones, the licence is yours. Of course, if you’re a man (or, I suppose, a woman) of means, you don’t have to go through the cone test. You simply buy a licence – or often four – to have a little something to go on, in case some are revoked.

It’s a bit of an eerie feeling, travelling in complete darkness along the edge of the desert. But we get to Luxor in one piece, so the driver probably knows what he’s doing.

How’s traffic in your part of the world?

Oddly, I didn’t photograph Luxor’s chaotic traffic. Thus, I’ve lifted two photos off flickr’s Creative Commons for illustrative purposes. Photo of Luxor traffic light is by tericee, and Luxor traffic jam photo is by almost witty.



23 Responses to “On the road in Egypt”

  1. Melvin 31 July 2011 1305 #

    That is a good idea… I should ask to get a couple of driver licenses. So far I got along with one, but who knows…

  2. Pete Heck 31 July 2011 1429 #

    Whoa, the driver surely knew what he was doing but still, that would be freaky driving in the black desert at night, no lights.

  3. inka 31 July 2011 1451 #

    By Isis, Sophie!!! You are a brave one, although disregard to traffc lights and pedestrians is quite ‘pedestrian’ in the Middle East. Mustn’t forget to obatin a spare drivers licence wehn I’m in Egypt. Best souvenir, I guess.

  4. Anne-Sophie Redisch 31 July 2011 1503 #

    Haha, Inka – I think Isis looked after us!

  5. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy 31 July 2011 1838 #

    Great article. It’s fascinating to hear that no one cares about traffic lights!

  6. Raymond @ Man On The Lam 31 July 2011 2115 #

    I was in Egypt years ago and I remember the traffic being absolute mayhem! I was just in Bangkok, and while not great, it was nowhere near as bad as just about anyplace in Egypt…

  7. Christian 31 July 2011 2131 #

    I just wanted to say it is very inspiring to follow along on your adventures all around the world with your children. Mine is only 5 months, but in a few years… I shall look forward to it.

  8. The Travel Chica 31 July 2011 2133 #

    I am surprised how “civil” driving is in Buenos Aires. There is certainly crazy traffic, but people know how to drive here. And there is some level of respect for pedestrians. I would not have said that had I not traveled through Central America (complete insanity) before I got here 🙂

  9. Christy @ Technosyncratic 31 July 2011 2200 #

    Driving in the dark (sans lights) sounds terrifying!! Especially since you know there might be other people out there with very little actual driving skills or experience. But at least they have a drivers license… or four!

  10. Italian Notes 1 August 2011 0921 #

    Traffic in Egypt can be pretty challenging. Especially the use of horns in Cairo to signal anything from ignition to left-hand turns.

  11. Barbara 1 August 2011 1012 #

    Traffic in Vietnam is pretty crazy. The locals say the lights are “just a suggestion”. And they follow the might is right rule of traffic flow. When you’re on a motorbike, you don’t get in the way of buses, trucks or cars.
    Traffic in Singapore is pretty tame in comparison, even though locals complain about the “jams”.

  12. robin 1 August 2011 1021 #

    Yes – in Cairo the traffic, and the driving,are more awe inspiring than the pyramids. Easily.

  13. ayngelina 2 August 2011 0532 #

    I never understood the drivers who turned their lights off, why do they do that??

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 August 2011 1008 #

      @Ayngelina – One can only guess. To create some excitement, maybe…

  14. Sabina 2 August 2011 1608 #

    These are interesting observations 🙂 I’ve never been in a convoy in Egypt – then again, the longest distance I’ve gone at one time has been maybe two hours on a bus or van through the Sinai. The more I get to know Egypt, the more I love it!

  15. Jenna 3 August 2011 0029 #

    Yikes. I’m the kind of person who likes feeling secure, and anytime I’m in a place where the driving is crazy and people don’t follow traffic “rules,” I get nervous.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 August 2011 0501 #

      @Jenna – It is a bit nervewracking, at first. Strangely, though, one gets used to it. I find I accept (and do) much more reckless things in countries where that is the norm than I would at home.

  16. Turkey's For Life 3 August 2011 0722 #

    Great post. The traffic lights are more adhered to in Turkey these days but they have the countdown on like the Egyptian ones and everyone is revving like mad from 10 down to 1. If you’ve not started moving by 2, you get serious beeps from behind. 🙂

  17. Jeremy Branham 3 August 2011 2107 #

    What interesting traffic jams in Egypt! As for traffic here, it’s awful! 🙂

  18. Shirlene from Idelish 19 August 2011 0929 #

    Didn’t know they had traffic jams in Egypt! It took me 30minutes to drive somewhere that should’ve taken 10mins today. I guess it’s better than driving in the dark! You’re brave!!

  19. Christina 23 September 2011 1626 #

    Oh my, I’d find that nerve-wrecking. Had a chaotic driving experience in Fiji, same with the darkness and headlights, crossing railway tracks just in front of a train (which didn’t have lights on either and no bell or barrier…), but this looks even worse.

  20. Emme Rogers @ Roamancing 28 November 2011 2013 #

    Hi Anne-Sophie,

    Curious to know how safe you felt in your travels in Egypt? I have the opportunity to speak there in December and am just trying to decide.

    Thanks for any advice in advance!


  21. Anne-Sophie Redisch 28 November 2011 2250 #

    @Emme – I felt quite safe, but then we were there before the uprisings. I’ll e-mail you the name of someone who’s there now.

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